Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Postparadigmatic Materialisms: A "New Movement of Thought" for Outdoor Environmental Education Research?

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Postparadigmatic Materialisms: A "New Movement of Thought" for Outdoor Environmental Education Research?

Article excerpt


My motivation for writing this essay arises, in large part, from my interest in pursuing a very similar question to one that Phillip Payne (2016) poses in the title of his capstone article for a recent special issue of the Journal of Environmental Education, namely, "What next? Post-critical materialisms in environmental education." (1) I was both pleased and intrigued to note that Payne's response to the "what next?" question converges in many respects with recent advocacy for modes of thinking described in terms of "new empiricisms" and "new materialisms" (see, for example, St. Pierre, Jackson, & Mazzei, 2016) that have also captured my interest. Payne writes:

This new movement of thought concerns itself with ontology, and the status of the real and, subsequently, the epistemologies flowing from a "new" material vitalism about the way the world is, and how we are in it. In its various guises, this movement may well reveal the historical complicity of "old" Western Cartesian inert "thought" about what it thought truly and rationally mattered, its presumptions, logics, and methods of reason (for example, Barad, 2007; Coole & Frost, 2010; Connolly, 2013; Latour, 2013; Shaviro, 2014). (Payne, 2016, p. 169; italics and quotation marks in original)

I share Payne's interest in "what next?" for environmental education, and more specifically for outdoor environmental education research, but I do not want to constrain my speculations by representing them in terms of familiar paradigmatic categories (such as critical or post-critical). To appraise possibilities for "what next?" requires consideration of past and present movements of thought, so in this essay I will briefly review some of the ways that outdoor environmental education researchers have thought about their practice, and the cultural materials on which they have drawn in so doing, before considering the possibilities for deploying new empiricist and materialist perspectives in this field.

I regret that Payne does not disaggregate the five sources he cites as examples of the "various guises" taken by the "new movement of thought" to which he refers. This "sandbag" approach to citing sources (in which multiple sources are packed into parentheses at the end of a sentence) is commonplace in academic writing, but is not particularly informative because it invites readers to interpret what might be disparate sources as having a degree of homogeneity. Of the five sources cited, only William Connolly's (2013) work is further elaborated in Payne's (2016, p. 170) assertion that the collective thought of the contributors to the special issue "about 'what next?' converges loosely on the need for new intellectual resources, vocabularies and grammars":

William Connolly (2013) captures the broader mood well in his "ecology of late capitalism," where the processes of "planetary politics" and, in particular "role experimentations" in "democratic activism" neatly capture the currents and morphologies expressed here. (Payne, 2016, p. 170; italics and quotation marks in original)

Payne provides no additional explanations for citing Barad (2007), Coole and Frost (2010), Latour (2013), and Shaviro (2014) as exemplars of a "new movement of thought" concerned with ontologies and materialisms, although I am sufficiently familiar with these authors not to dispute their relevance. Nevertheless, I was somewhat surprised that none of them were cited again in Payne's (2016, p. 171) very useful elaboration of eight "major absences and silences relevant to the decolonizing of globalizing policy-making endeavors." For example, as Serge Hein (2016, p. 132) notes, Barad "is arguably the most prominent figure in the new materialism," and her work is manifestly relevant to at least three of the major absences and silences that Payne identifies, namely:

* Agency: A key chapter of Barad's (2007) book is devoted to justifying and elaborating her concept of "agential realism" (p. …

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